David Shulman writes: On March 16, I joined some twenty-five children, aged about eight to thirteen, who had gathered with Palestinian peace activists in a house in Hebron city to write letters to President Obama on the eve of his visit to Jerusalem. March 16 was the start of the third Selma-to-Montgomery march, led by Martin Luther King, in 1965, a defining moment in the history of the American civil rights movement, and the children—Palestinians who were mostly from the H2 area of Hebron under direct Israeli military control—had come to learn about Martin Luther King and nonviolent resistance.
Most of the letters began by begging the US president: “Open Shuhada Street”—once the main thoroughfare of central Hebron, now almost completely barred to Palestinians, its shops bolted, the doors of its houses welded shut by the Israeli army. Others said simply: “Enough Occupation” or “Free Palestine” or “Down with the Wall.” One slightly older boy quoted a line of poetry: “Either we live, all of us, or we die together.” Some drew pictures: a soldier in khaki uniform standing with his rifle under an olive tree; a child’s map of Hebron, encircled, closed, with its deserted main street, in blue, cutting through to the city center.
A visit to Hebron eats into one’s soul. As of last week, Israel has a new government which, like the previous one, is in the hands of the settlers. Their parties have control of the Housing Ministry and the crucial Finance Committee of the Knesset, among other plums. Their not-so-secret plan is to put a million Jews in the West Bank, and they now have the political means to carry it out. There will be a surge of construction in the West Bank settlements, and new “illegal outposts” will mushroom on the hills. No one should expect the so-called centrists, or moderates, in the coalition to hold back the extremists.
Yair Lapid’s party, optimistically named “There is a Future,” came in second in the elections. But like most of the Israeli mainstream, Lapid seems all too ready to go along with the extreme program of the right. Tzipi Livni, former head of the opposition, ran on a platform demanding that Israel re-open negotiations with the Palestinians; she has been given the Ministry of Justice, but she is entirely unequal to the task of pleading the cause of peace—and in any case, Netanyahu is committed to blocking any progress in that area. For his part, Barack Obama, on his belated first visit to Israel as president, has articulated the hope for peace and the urgent need for a free Palestinian state with a directness and clarity perhaps never heard before in Jerusalem. Netanyahu responded with his usual niggardly, narrow-hearted non-vision. [Continue reading…]